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EU calls for release of Vietnamese dissident

June 6, 2019

Climate activist Nguyen Ngoc Anh was sentenced to six years in prison for a series of "anti-state" Facebook posts. Human Rights campaigners say this is part of an "ongoing crackdown" on dissent.

Nguyen Ngoc Anh stands between policemen during his trial

The European Union called for the immediate release of a Vietnamese Facebook user, who was jailed for six years on Thursday.

A court in the south of Vietnam convicted Nguyen Ngoc Anh of "anti-state" posts on the social media platform.

What the EU said

The EU's External Action Service issued a statement saying:

  • Freedom of opinion is "vital to ensure transparency, social justice, sustainable and inclusive development and prosperity."
  • The EU expects the Vietnamese authorities to "release Nguyen Ngoc Anh as well as all human rights defenders imprisoned for having peacefully expressed their views."
  • The bloc will "continue to monitor and work with all relevant stakeholders to improve the human rights situation in Vietnam."

Read more: Outrage in Germany over deportation of Vietnamese dissident

'Worrying trend'

The EU said the sentence was part of a "worrying development." According to Amnesty International, Vietnam currently has at least 128 political prisoners, with 10% jailed for social media posts. The 88 Project, which monitors rights abuses in Vietnam, says the country is currently holding more than 200 political prisoners.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said on Wednesday the trial was part of a "crackdown on critical voices" in order to "frighten others who might dare to question the government."

What was the charge against Anh? The 39-year-old shrimp farmer was convicted of "producing, disseminating and spreading information and documents aimed at undermining" the country, the Vietnam News Agency reported. According to the indictment, Anh wrote Facebook posts urging people to join protests in June and September. 

Protesting environmental crimes: Anh's posts protested the Taiwanese-owned company Formosa Ha Tinh Steel, which the Vietnamese government found guilty of killing hundreds of tons of fish off the coast of central Vietnam in 2016. He also voiced support for political prisoners.

The role of Facebook: The ruling Communist Party has banned independent media and does not tolerate criticism. Many turn to Facebook to voice dissent. In January, the social media platform was accused by the Vietnamese government of breaking the law by allowing users to post anti-government messages. Facebook says that it increased the amount of content blocked to users in Vietnam by more than 500% in the second half of 2018. 

Years of repression getting worse. Anh's is just the latest in a number of similar arrests. Last week a music teacher was arrested on the same charges, and in early May two activists were given prison sentences of five and six years for Facebook posts opposing new special economic zones and enhanced cybersecurity laws.

Anh will be under house arrest for five years after he has completed his six-year jail term. 

'North Korea could learn from Vietnam'

rt/js (dpa, Reuters, AFP)

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